The Psychoid Archetype

The Psychoid Archetype

Utility Poles, by Paul Klee


The archetypal representations (images and ideas) mediated to us by the unconscious should not be confused with the archetype as such. They are very varied struc­tures which all point back to one essentially “irrepresentable” basic form. The latter is characterized by certain formal ele­ments and by certain fundamental meanings, although these can be grasped only approximately. The archetype as such is a psychoid factor that belongs, as it were, to the invisible, ultra­violet end of the psychic spectrum. It does not appear, in itself, to be capable of reaching consciousness. 1

Late in his career, Carl Jung expanded his thinking on the nature of the archetypes. In the passage above, he begins to present this new angle. The images and ideas that arise in our conscious minds are only approximate representations of the archetypes from which they flow. The archetypes, in themselves, cannot be known by the conscious mind. This is the psychoid nature of the archetypes. Jung regarded the psychoid archetype as non-psychic and transcendent. He used the analogy of the electromagnetic spectrum to illustrate the difference between the psychoid archetype, as such, and its effects. He analogically places the psychoid archetype in the “invisible, ultra­violet end of the psychic spectrum.” Its effects, images and ideas, he placed in the visible spectrum, or in the conscious mind as approximations. Thus, things of the psyche can never be quantified using mathematics. According to Jung, “we have no measuring rod with which to measure psychic quantities” and “there is no hope that the validity of any statement about unconscious states or processes will ever be verified scientifically.” 2 In my thinking, this simply means that a science based solely on quantifiable phenomena is incomplete.

The images and ideas we experience are like the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. This is not to say they are not real. In physics, one uses mathematics to ascertain the realities of physical phenomena. In matters of the soul, one would use poetry and mythology to explore the realities of the imaginal realm. There is a difference, however. In physics, one has the luxury of using mathematics to observe the empirical universe, and then translate these observations into psychic concepts. In the study of psyche, however, one observes one’s inner states, but there is no similar tool that can be used to translate inner observations into anything but psychic contents. To me, this indicates that psyche and matter are really one and the same thing. We think this is odd because we have been so inculcated with the ideas of Descartes concerning mind and matter.

Jung draws an interesting parallel:

…just as physics in its psychological aspect can do no more than establish the existence of an observer without being able to assert anything about the nature of that observer, so psychology can only indicate the relation of psyche to matter without being able to make out the least thing about its nature. 3

 Jung believed the psychoid archetype to be a bridge between psyche and matter. He states,

Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and mat­ter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. 4

He goes on to explain that these statements do not contradict what he had written previously concerning archetypes. The theory of the psychoid archetype is an expansion upon earlier writings.

Of course, we know he derived his theory of synchronicity from this notion.

  1. C.G. Jung, On the Nature of Psyche, in the Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol. 8, trans. R.F.C. Hull (London: Routledge, 1960, p. 213.
  2. ibid., p. 214
  3. ibid., p. 215
  4. ibid.

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